Having previously introduced the doctrine of the laying on of hands and discussed its scope within the Hebrew scriptures, it is worthwhile to continue our discussion of the doctrine of the laying on of hands to show where it is discussed in the New Testament. It should be noted that when people think of laying on of hands, it is with these examples that people often begin. Still, even if these examples are more familiar than the ones we previously discussed, it is still worthwhile to point them out anyway, as they form an essential part of the biblical context on the doctrine and, as we noted in the introduction, help the reader to understand that the laying on of hands is more than just a practice but is also a doctrine as well. Again, as we noted previously, this examination of the laying on of hands as it appears in the New Testament is not meant to be exhaustive, but it is meant to be illustrative of the contexts in which the laying on of hands appears. With that said, here is a look at laying on of hands as it appears in the New Testament.
As is the case in the Old Testament, laying hands is sometimes associated with the healing of the sick. For example, in Mark 5:22-34, we have an example of Jesus going to lay hands on someone to heal them while someone lays their hands on Jesus Christ and is made well: “And behold, one of the rulers of the synagogue came, Jairus by name. And when he saw Him, he fell at His feet and begged Him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live.” So Jesus went with him, and a great multitude followed Him and thronged Him. Now a certain woman had a flow of blood for twelve years, and had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment. For she said, “If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.” Immediately the fountain of her blood was dried up, and she felt in herbody that she was healed of the affliction. And Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that power had gone out of Him, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My clothes?” But His disciples said to Him, “You see the multitude thronging You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’” And He looked around to see her who had done this thing. But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.”
In this same vein, we have Jesus’ own statements about the laying on of hands to heal the sick as part of the great commission given to the Church in Mark 16:15-18: “And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”” We see this same thought echoed in James 5:13-14 where this is compared with the anointing of oil done for kings and priests in ancient Israel: “ Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”
In addition to this, we see that like in the Old Testament, the laying on of hands is associated with ordination, something referred to by Paul to Timothy twice. First we see it in 1 Timothy 4:14: “Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership.” Then we see Paul refer to it again in 1 Timothy 5:22: “Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure.” This is wise advise to those who have had the hands laid on them to ordain them to a spiritual office. Without a doubt, if there had been ordination to physical offices in the New Testament as occurred in the Hebrew scriptures, we would find such things mentioned in the New Testament, but as seen above, the laying on of hands for raising someone to an office is seen in the New Testament as it was in the ordination of kings and priests during the times of ancient Israel.
We also, as we saw before, can connect the laying on of hands with negative aspects of judgment. As it is written in Luke 20:19: “And the chief priests and the scribes that very hour sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the people—for they knew He had spoken this parable against them.” Much the same language is used for this incident in Mark 12:12: “And they sought to lay hands on Him, but feared the multitude, for they knew He had spoken the parable against them. So they left Him and went away.” Even in Jesus’ warning to the disciples in Luke 21:12 about what would happen to them this use of laying on of hands in a negative way is seen here just as it was in the Hebrew scriptures we noted before: “But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake.”
One new context in which the laying on of hands is mentioned is one that is most familiar to believers, and that is the laying on of hands that takes place after baptism. Let us note one story in particular for this, in Acts 8:14-19: “Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”” Here we see that while Philip the deacon was within his authority to baptize the repentant Samaritans, he did not have the authority to grant the Holy Spirit to these new believers through the laying on of hands, something that was limited to the apostles, who served as the ministry at that time (since this was before other elders had been appointed to that task). As we shall shortly see, the manifestation of the power that can result from the laying on of hands prompted the corrupt Simon Magus to seek to purchase this power for himself. The laying on of hands can have a great power indeed for those who use it in a godly fashion.